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The tumultuous past week provided reassuring evidence that there are still a few fully-functioning adults in the U.S. Congress — and not all of them sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican who chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, is one such grown-up.

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Like other members of House Speaker Paul Ryan's leadership team, Brady is committed to repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with something that provides less generous health insurance coverage to a few million fewer Americans.

And if one by-product of Obamacare's annihilation is a multi-billion-dollar tax cut for the donor class that bankrolls his party, well, Chairman Brady can live with that.

But Brady is not an idiot. He knows that as skeptical Republican senators wring hands over the wildly unpopular repeal-and-replace bill the House dropped in their lap last month, the scaffolding that millions of newly-insured Americans currently depend on for affordable health care coverage is starting to collapse.

And he understands that if Obamacare implodes on the Trump Administration's watch, voters may blame Republicans, not the Democratic congressional minority.

Thursday, while most of the nation was transfixed by former FBI Director James Comey's testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Brady acknowledged publicly what Republican governors and health care experts have been saying privately for months: Unless his party does something to shore up the Affordable Care Act until a new, Republican-branded system is in place, millions of Americans may lose access to affordable healthcare just in time for next year's congressional elections.

Brady's reluctant conclusion: He and other Republican lawmakers must immediately reassure insurers that Washington will continue to make billions of dollars in subsidy payments that make health premiums more affordable for about 7 million low-income policyholders.

This, it should be said, is not the conventional wisdom among Brady's Republican colleagues. Most of them talk about the imminent collapse of Obamacare the way Marxist ideologues used to talk about the imminent collapse of capitalism. They view it as a fait accompli, an inevitable consequence of birth defects that doomed the ACA from the get-go.

In the view of these Republicans, anything that hastens the demise of the status quo is good for mankind in general, and Republican elected officials in particular. Their most prominent spokesman is none other than President Donald Trump, who has roiled the insurance exchanges established under the ACA by hinting that his administration will neither continue to make the subsidy payments insurers have come to depend on nor enforce the individual mandate that requires most Americans, including the youngest, healthiest adults, to buy health insurance.

Whether they support Obamacare or oppose it, lawmakers and policymakers know the subsidy payments and the individual mandate are the foundations of the current health care system's solvency. Withdraw either, and very few insurers can operate profitably in the healthcare exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act.

The uncertainty cultivated by the Trump administration has already prompted some of the nation's largest insurers to pull out of the exchanges, on the grounds that they can no longer reliably forecast either their premium income or their expenses.

Trump and his congressional allies cite this utterly predictable reaction as proof of Obamacare's unsustainability. They are like motorists who criticize a car's faltering performance as they gleefully rip vital components from its running engine.

Who's more delusional? The Republican ideologues who believed they could arrange a seamless transition from Obamacare to something entirely different (and explicitly less useful) unilaterally? Or the Republican cynics who believed none of the millions who've obtained affordable health coverage under Obamacare would notice that GOP lawmakers were sabotaging the insurance market?

Brady has renounced both those delusions. He knows it may be years before any workable alternative to Obamacare is up and running, and that in the meantime voters will look to the Republicans who control the White House and Congress to keep the current health care system chugging forward.

And so, in an initiative inspired by some combination of human decency and political pragmatism, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has thrown his colleagues a lifeline.

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Contact Brian Dickerson@freepress.com.

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